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Jenkins returned before midday, having made considerable haste to Somerset and back, being, as the youngest of the Company, likely much wanting to make his name. He staggered into the theater nearly stroked from the heat and handed to me a folded message sealed with Carey’s signet, which I did quick secret within my garb.
“Were he a mare, I’d call him lame and add him to the pot,” said Burbage, walking unevenly from the wings, where he had been well into his drink since news of our eviction.
“Were he a mare you would mount him sure, and not for riding,” said Hemings, who too had arrived to join the mournful waking of our fortunes.
Burbage shrugged and nodded and said, “Mayhaps, but then to the pot,” but the spark of levity which did so oft lift the spirits of the Company could find no kindle, and we stood in quiet regarding Jenkins, who sat in the dirt of the common audience ground, his legs sprawled before him, and his back to the facing of the stage, panting as if a dog would in such hot weathers as we did current encounter, and much lathered as if a hard-rode horse.
“If you good sirs are concluded of your sport, might I humbly trouble you for some water, as I am afeared that I cannot at the moment rise to fetch it myself,” Jenkins said.
Burbage snorted and handed down the bottle of sack with which he has but half concluded. “It would do my standing ill to fetch your water, boy, but I count it an admirable mercy that I do share with you such drink as I have at hand. This will heal thee well.”
Jenkins took a long pull from the bottle, and his face showed some distress, as he was not yet much practiced with drink, but the urgency of his thirst overcame the objections of his tastes such that he then did drink the bottle dry. Being not much used to drink, and his humors I think much depleted by his exertions, he was almost immediate considerable drunk, and Burbage took such chance as to introduce the lad to a comic dance of the palsied, crowing fashion that his former fellow Kemp made much famous, and we did in Jenkins’ many pratfalls and thunderous landings make much merriment until, in fear that he would soon be as well bruised as he was well fatigued, I did take mercy, fetch him back to our stores, give him a jug of water and put him to rest on some pile of fabrics there that did approximate a bed.
Glum again, Burbage and Hemings sat with the legs adangle from the stage front.
“I hear the Swan does need some business,” said Hemings.
Burbage nodded. “We can no doubt find there some dates as chance allows, but not near so much as our slate demands.”
“Would you each to Bankside and make rounds there of such venues as may suit our purposes? We can perhaps cobble together enough days, though we will be itinerant, I do fear.”
“We can,” said Burbage, taking to his feat, but without the elan that was his custom, then offering his hand to Hemings, pulling him to stand also, the both of them much wearied in their aspect. “And you, Will?”
“I will take our lease to a lawyer of my acquaintance in hopes the he may divine in it some relief that I could not, though an eviction being already granted, I do hold our chances slim.”
“A slim chance now seeming still sweet,” Burbage said. “The Lord Admiral’s Men do open a new play today. Will you join us to scout this once your business is complete?”
“Loathe as I am to fatten Henslowe’s purse, yes,” I said. “But a penny only. With the groundlings at the front of the stage.”
“Amidst the vomit and stench of our common fellows, with ale in hand that me might from such close quarters attempt to vex Alleyn at his supposed art,” Burbage said, some of his usual bombast regained. “I would have it no other.”
I walked down Bishopsgate just passing from Shoreditch into London proper when I was by my gut reminded that I had that day not yet broke fast, and so turned into the tavern near my rooms, where I was common found. The hour being odd, I was alone, and the keeper joined me at table when be brought me a stew and an ale.
“Will you move your rooms, Will, such to be closer to your new locations?”
And so word of our eviction did already spread. “Sour news does travel fast,” I answered.
He seemed puzzled. “How sour?”
And I puzzled in return. “Our eviction, and on only short days notice? How other than sour?”
He made a face as if not understanding, “I have for some weeks heard from such vendors near with which I have business that the theater and some many surroundings are to be made clear for some collection of shops, by rumor to rival those near the exchange at Threadneedle, so as to have the commerce of the much expanded population.”
“For some weeks?”
“And which vendors?”
“The brewer sure, I do remember that. The butcher.”
“Passing odd, as we have only heard today,” I said.
But I hurried to finish my stew and declined a second ale even though I did much desire it so as to make haste to the lawyer, now suspecting that Miller’s wish to be rid of us was no act of moral fervor nor out of concern to any risk, but instead part of a long plan to supplant us for the gain of his wealth, and that he had delayed his notice so only as to do us harm from spite, the Lord Chamberlain’s death, which evidently some had long anticipated, being just his excuse. I did sense in that such grass from which a lawyer might make hay.
Some yards further toward the river, I passed a butcher’s door, and thinking it most likely that this be the same butcher from which the tavern keeper had heard news of Miller’s intent, I turned in, to find a man surprising small, but with arm’s below the elbow much pronounced, and who stood behind his counter chopping at a mutton.
“My pardon sir,” I called, him turning, having not heard me over the concentration of his endeavors.
‘”Good day,” he responded.
“And to you. I will not trouble you long. I am a glover new to London, having been approached as a possible tenant for such exchange as to be built near, and soon, and did hear that you, too, may have been so approached and did hope to hear your thinking.”
The butcher set down his blade and wiped some gore off of his hands on the apron that draped his legs.
“I was so asked,” he said, “and did agree though much reluctant, as I own this building free, having it from my father’s estate and keeping my house upstairs. But they have approached most every keeper of an establishment of any custom in these lanes. Those tenants in such buildings as they do not own have found either their leases sold to new landlords or such building as they are in bought entire, so that they will move to this new district, be it their will or no, and for those few of us that remain, we are afeared that such custom as would used to frequent these streets now will all be to these new shops, and if we move not hence, then some other as competes for our trade will, and so we will move to avoid our ruin.”
“It seems there is much that good Sir Miller did not share with me in our original discussions, but me starting my business new, having been apprenticed at my father’s shop in distant Stratford, perhaps he considered it of no concern. It seems he was more plain in his truck with you.”
The butcher shook his head. “It was not Miller in my case, as I do not know any such, but a lawyer who doth speak for some other investors in this scheme, my new lease being not with some sole man, but with their company, in which company they did strongly hint are persons of some nobility, that last said, I think, not so much to convince as to coerce.”
“I do thank you sir for your honest congress. I do wonder if I might not have been better served to remain a country lad, where life doth seem less complex.”
“It is a new world to me and much strange, always of lawyers and shares and lenders and charters of such dense construction such that we understand no longer our own affairs, but always seem to find some other mouth feeding at a teat we had thought our own, and feeding a man grown much fat from no enterprise of my understanding..”
“This company, how is it called?
“The Somerset Company, sir. Supposedly only my new landlord, but increasingly, I fear, my new master.”
Somerset. There was a name to my familiar. As I turned to leave, the message Jenkins had brought from Carey fell, my having forgotten it during Jenkins’ drunken revels. I opened it and read it as I walked.
I shall meet you on tomorrow at dusk where the new Cathedral rises at the point nearest Newgate, as for our to have too common congress in public knowledge would strike my company here as odd.
Such now my life, conducted increasingly in the dark and in secret and with such fellows as could with ease do me ill and whose true affections I could not know, this London I had previously held in such affection seeming now to be sprung thick with peril and perfidy, and not such cradle of hopeful wonder as I did imagine.